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Top German nationalist politician urges pragmatism amid tense conference

Germany's best-known nationalist politician has called on members of Alternative for Germany to endorse her more pragmatic course instead of turning the party into a "fundamental opposition".

Frauke Petry's appeal at a party convention in the western city of Cologne appeared to reveal a growing split among the populist party's leading figures.

Speaking in front of AfD members, she said the party needs to set the course for a "spiritual-moral change" in Germany and the rest of Europe.

The convention takes place days after Ms Petry said she will not be her party's top candidate in the September general election, a move seen by many as a consequence of the party leaders' infighting about the direction of the AfD.

The convention in a Cologne hotel was overshadowed by massive left-wing demonstrations.

Around 50,000 left-wing protesters were expected and about 4,000 police officers were on the ground to prevent a violent escalation of anti-populist rallies.

Protesters injured one police officer on Saturday morning while trying to block the hotel where about 600 AfD members were gathered.

AfD party members could enter their convention centre only with massive police protection because hundreds of demonstrators tried to keep them out, news agency dpa said.

Ms Petry became co-leader of the four-year-old AfD in 2015. She ousted fellow founder Bernd Lucke, an economics professor, shifting the party's focus from economic issues to immigration and Islam.

AfD's poll ratings soared with the influx of migrants to Germany in late 2015 and early 2016.

However, they have sagged in recent months as the issue faded from headlines and the party became increasingly mired in infighting.

Ms Petry and her husband, Marcus Pretzell, took one side and other senior figures were even further on the right.

The 41-year-old also irked some rivals by leading an effort to expel Bjoern Hoecke, AfD's regional leader in eastern Thuringia state, after he suggested that Germany stop acknowledging and atoning for its Nazi past.

With her refusal to become the AfD's top candidate on Wednesday, Ms Petry ended months of speculation about her ambitions to lead the party's effort to enter the national parliament for the first time in Germany's September 24 election.

She did not, however, suggest any plans to step down as party chairwoman.

German political parties choose lead candidates for elections who generally dominate their campaigns and, in the case of bigger parties, compete to become chancellor.

AP

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